Colette Haymes’ life changed dramatically at the age of 40, when she came across a lump while breastfeeding.
She was diagnosed with a highly invasive breast cancer.
“I remember being sad not for me, but for my husband and my children, that’s where my sadness came from,” Colette says.
The treatment happened very fast. It was so surreal I was lost for words. I think I was in shock and a bit naive as to what was coming next.
She says being positive was what kept her going. She’d remind herself that all these other women before her had beaten it, so she could too. She wanted to laugh through it.
It was a tough resolve. Now recovered, she works as a volunteer, helping to guide and support other women facing similar trauma, and raises money for cancer research.
Colette says she knew straight away something was wrong as soon as she had the mammogram and ultrasound.
“I remember the doctor doing the biopsies telling me, ‘I don’t think this is going to be good news’.” And then telling her to bring her husband with her to get her results.
Ahead of her was a long battle with a rare form of breast cancer called invasive pleomorphic lobular carcinoma. Treatment involved a mastectomy, and removal of lymph nodes and her ovaries.
The breast cancer fed off hormones and was fast spreading. She had six months of chemotherapy, and then radiotherapy every day for five-and-a-half weeks.
She drew strength from her two daughters, who were five and two-and-a-half years old at the time.
“They got me out of bed every morning, I had to be strong for them,” she says.
Her daughter Gabrielle, now 14, has awful memories of the time. “All I remember was going into the hospital and seeing mum with all the tubes and thinking she was dead,” she says. “I remember being sad and scared most of the time.”
Ten years later, the impact of seeing her mother so unwell still affects her. “I enjoy the life we have now with her. If it had been caught any later, we might not have her.”
Colette has been a volunteer at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre and Look Good Feel Better organisation, helping those who are faced with cancer.
“I feel as though I am mentally strong enough to give back because people had been so good to me,” she says.
“I wanted to listen to people’s stories, I was so sick of telling mine. It’s been therapy for me too.”
She also chose to skydive out of a plane, which raised $7500 for breast cancer research. It terrified her, but it was her desire to help others travelling a similar path similar that gave her the motivation to step out of her comfort zone.
Colette’s story has touched many people. Family and friends came together with her to share her experience in a documentary that was shown at half-time on the scoreboards of the MCG to commemorate the annual Pink Lady Match in 2017.
Colette says the biggest lesson she learnt was to live in the moment. Some days she would wake up feeling good and would make the most of that. Then other days she would wake up feeling the opposite.
“It’s not the challenge that defines us, it’s what we do with it that matters most. It’s how we choose to face it, cope with it and live from day to day that defines us.”